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Posted at 11:31 AM ET, 07/ 1/2010

WSSC announces water restrictions

By Washington Post editors

UPDATE:
The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission is implementing mandatory water restrictions for all its customers after an inspection found a failing 96-inch water main.

The restrictions take effect immediately and are expected to last at least four days.

WSSC officials said the failing section is located near the corner of Tuckerman Lane and Gainsborough Road in Potomac. Repairs are already underway.


Locator map



Water main

The 96-inch concrete pipe — the biggest in WSSC’s system — was installed in 1969 and was last inspected three years ago, WSSC spokesman Jim Neustadt said. After that inspection, crews left behind fiber optic equipment to detect the “ping” sounds created when the reinforcing steel wires snap from corrosion after ground water seeps through the pipe’s decaying concrete walls.

It was a relative flurry of “ping” sounds — one detected Tuesday afternoon and seven more within a half-hour just after midnight Wednesday — that triggered an alarm warning that the pipe was in danger of bursting, Neustadt said.

“The technology worked to let us know this was going on so we could take appropriate action to prevent anything worse from happening,” Neustadt said.


The pipe is similar to a 66-inch concrete main that burst along River Road in Bethesda in late 2008, stranding cars amid a torrent of frigid water and requiring motorists to be rescued by helicopter and firefighters in boats.

The outside water restrictions are necessary to maintain enough water pressure systemwide to operate fire hydrants and to ensure bacteria does not seep in as water is rerouted around the massive pipe, Neustadt said.

“It’s not good to have this happen on the Fourth of July weekend,” Neustadt said of the restrictions, “but we prevented something that could have been worse.”

About 2 a.m. Thursday, police, fire and health department officials from Prince George's and Montgomery counties joined the WSSC on a conference call to discuss response to the water main.

Officials stressed there is no need for residents to fear drinking tap water because this is not a contamination issue.

Prince George's fire spokesman Mark Brady said the department has enough water to battle typical house fires, but he said the ruptured main could create difficulties for larger 2- or 3-alarm blazes.

"The pressure is not a problem. It's the amount of water pumped into the system," Brady said. However, he added that WSSC officials have said they can re-route additional water to specific areas if necessary.

"We will open the lines of communication with WSSC and Montgomery County," Brady said, "and, if there is any working incident, we will communicate with each other."

Both Brady and James Keary, spokesman for Prince George's County, said that the government is issuing notices to its email listservs, Twitter accounts and other social media to alert residents and community groups to the restrictions.

"Most people will understand this," Keary said. "There will be some who forgot to reset their sprinklers and somebody will go out and wash their cars. But I don't think we have to be the water police on this. Most understand it."

The restrictions forbid any outdoor water use, including topping off swimming pools, washing cars and watering lawns. Car washes that use recycled water are not affected, Neustadt said.
Neustadt said crews would begin digging along the shoulder of Tuckerman on Thursday afternoon, which could require some lane closures. Crews must first drain the massive pipe, dig it up, cut out the weakened section and replace it with a new one.

WSSC officials freely admit their underground water pipes — some dating back a century — are failing as water utilities nationwide have begun to realize they have not kept pace with their aging underground infrastructure.

The large concrete pipes that serve as the WSSC’s major feeder lines make up 357 miles of the 5,500-mile system. They are considered critical because they are often buried close to homes and major roads and can explode under high pressure, sending a torrent of water cascading out of the ground.

Yet scrutiny of those pipes all but ended for six years earlier this decade when the WSSC received no rate increases and lost half its maintenance staff to buyouts and attrition, WSSC officials have said. This section of the Tuckerman Road pipe had received more scrutiny than most because it was inspected three years ago, when the fiber optic equipment that warned of the pipe’s weakening was installed.


--Katherine Shaver and David Nakamura

10:48 a.m.
WSSC is implementing mandatory water restrictions for all its customers after an inspection found a failing 96-inch water main break.

The restrictions take effect immediately and are expected to last at least four days.

WSSC officials said the failing section is located near the corner of Tuckerman Lane and Gainsborough Road in Potomac. Repair are already underway but WSSC is advising customers to:

Stop all outside water use – no watering lawns, no washing cars, no topping off swimming pools
Use water only as necessary
Limit flushing toilets (do not flush after every use)
Limit using washing machines and dishwashers (wash full loads only)

WSSC says it is working with fire departments in Montgomery and Prince George's County to make sure they have adequate water supply.


WSSC implements water restrictions

10:35 a.m.

WSSC is implementing mandatory water restrictions for all of its customers, NBC 4 reports.

The restrictions come after an inspection found a failing 96-inch water main break in the area of Gainsborough Road and Tuckerman Lane in Potomac.

WSSC customers are advised to stop all outside water use, including lawn watering and washing cars; limit toilet flushing, washing machines and dishwashers.

By Washington Post editors  | July 1, 2010; 11:31 AM ET
Categories:  Maryland  
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